John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

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After ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ back in 2017, the clock has been ticking, not only for the suited man himself, but fans too, eager to witness the quietly brooding figure of vengeance return to screens. It’s only been 2 years but has the wait been worth it?

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) broke strict guidelines and killed a man on safe ground. Come 6pm, he will be announced as excommunicado; meaning a large bounty is on his head for any and all takers. Wick may be a handy hitman but with cities of assassins after him he may just need the assistance of Sofia (Halle Berry) and the Director (Anjelica Huston) if he has any hope of survival.

‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is a high octane film from the offset and it doesn’t much dial down for the entire 2 hour+ run-time. This is unfiltered action glory and unlike a good number of films, that hone in on fights with a gritty yet messily cut together series of punches, here every single edit works. The cuts are clean and precise meaning the audience do not lose focus on what’s happening, who is being dispatched and how. It’s a blistering showcase in well ordered and executed choreography but great care by editor Evan Schiff too.

Hopping from New York to Morocco and back again, this movie is shot so gorgeously. Almost every frame has a delectable cinematic vibe which triumphs over most film releases. The action may take precedence but the filmmakers haven’t lost sight on making their efforts look absolutely crisp and stunning. Amongst the crazy onslaught of battle comes well lit moments like one during a ballet rehearsal or in the glossy and glassy finale; so even if the fatigue of fight scenes set in for some, you surely can’t grow tired of how beautiful ‘Parabellum’ is.

The top floor showdown at the end is top drawer stuff but an outstanding moment comes at a Casablanca set scuffle which is scorching; in terms of bullet power and inescapable action might. Not only does it provide the capable Reeves, but there is the kick-ass skill of Berry and her two assassin dogs who are furry hounds of death. They combine to make a formidable foursome and this whole sequence takes the breath away.

What is so great about this third outing is that the lighting and production design is so sharp and detailed, it perfectly enhances the brutality of fighting on show; most of which relies on the difficult and masterful know-how of martial arts. The kicks, punches and breaths between strikes are a sight to behold.

Keanu Reeves is no doubt The One, he offs numerous foes, some with ease and others with difficulty making him a human hero. The delivery of lines are dry as ever, the fairly monotone way he reacts hands the film an amusing brush. This film has silly moments and it knows it, the bad-ass looks or dialogue aren’t meant to be taken too seriously and that is why the ‘John Wick’ series works so well.

Like the horse which Wick rides down a New York street, this movie gallops like a bold and bloody stallion that you cannot and do not wish to halt. Watch out Bond and Bourne.

8/10

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Vice (2019)

Adam McKay returns with another awards big hitter after the bank crisis content of ‘The Big Short’ in 2015. His latest still concerns a grandiose story with Red, White and Blue oozing out like overfilled jam in a Stateside doughnut which Dick Cheney would eagerly gobble up but left me with a pain in my stomach and head.

After failing at education and being a general hothead, Cheney (Christian Bale) finds himself under the tutelage of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) he learns the tricksy ropes of U.S government and becomes a concocting piece of nasty work through to Vice Presidency with George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), all whilst being aided by the quiet yet important assistance of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams).

I’ll openly and happily admit I was not a fan of ‘The Big Short’ and I’m definitely no advocate for this movie either. McKay tries to be smart and stylish with an overload of cutaways and general frustrating directorial choices which further my belief that his step up from dumb big comedies like ‘Anchorman’ to Oscar fodder releases are a bridge too far.

The storytelling is all over the place and you can’t shake the fact of how messy the film is. It truly should have ended at the fake-out early rolling credits but alas you have to sit through more trying politics and failed attempts at humour to test your patience to the maximum. It’s a film which really made me angry and I understand in one sense that can work, as the actions carried out by the words of Cheney do boil the blood but the film can’t just tell an impacting, dramatic story, McKay has to feel he’s better than everyone he’s preaching too and he slams political jargon over your head to a point that is both patronising and exhausting.

There’s constant irritation to be had with the editing, from abrupt black outs, random swipes to stock footage and general non-stop fatigue by a film which doesn’t know how to keep on a one track mind, less a parallel to the Dick in question, as he was laser focused on his Republican values and scheme to puppeteer the POTUS and more a shambolic run of tiresome, try hard stylish choices which have you going from voice overs, fourth wall breaks, nature docs, news clips and a ridiculous Shakespearean-tongued conversation.

Bale as the eventual VP is a force to be reckoned with and under his extra weight and thinning white hair becomes a properly terrifying human monster. He’s one of the sole selling points to the film, you completely forget the Welsh actor is involved, he’s a masterful talent in making you despise Dick more than you may already have done before. Adams is as charismatic as ever, though in a more worrying way as she delicately yet powerfully backs and boosts her abhorrent husband. Rockwell is a great actor but his award noms for what is essentially a generic caricature of a figure spoofed countless times feels misplaced.

All in all, ‘Vice’ feels like a pointless film, serving no purpose as it can’t exactly be out to alter minds. A staunch Republican wouldn’t watch and suddenly reevaluate their political agenda nor will people on the right side of the coin go in and be any less appalled at the deplorable nature of Washington politics and the ease in which Cheney could whisper manipulation to the masses. It’s a movie only really there to make you incensed, not just at Dick’s dickiness but at the film being terrible.

4.5/10

Mary Queen of Scots (2019)

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“Orf with their heads”. This Queen of Hearts decree is an violent literary line and an unpleasant truth for real life figure, Mary Stuart. The lucid hijinks of Lewis Carroll’s creation may not be there but the duelling nature of power and the cartoon characters’ behaviour based on Mary’s temperament most certainly is.

After returning home to Scotland in 1561, Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) takes over royal duties from her half-brother. Due to her blood line she has rightful claim to the throne in England, but that is taken by Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie). As the years pass by, the arguments of men tip the balance between the sisters and an heir borne by Mary could help her claim what she believes is rightfully hers.

Josie Rourke takes charge of this period drama and her theatre background is evident. She has been artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse since 2012 and her stage know-how helps give the film a theatrical buzz, something akin to that sensation you get when watching a live show. The shifting powers within the story are ones you could easily picture being acted out on stage, though for a film, there are times that the theatrical element feels like it’s a movie just ticking off each historical chapter like a scene in a play.

Rourke does show she has a great handle on the back and forth dramas of this politically laden period piece but at a few spots it feels like the director’s reins are slipping ever so slightly, as if the film is slowing down too much. Adding to Rourke’s confident handle on drama and actor management are some stunning visuals from John Mathieson; his work reflects the royal production value, with both England and Scotland looking gorgeous on screen. All in all, ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ is a glorious film to look at.

The costume and make up deserve our endless curtsies. The detail to be seen throughout this film is incredible, from jewellery to ruffled accessories, dresses, armour and hair pieces, the film is a marvel of fashion and 16th century period vision. It isn’t only the look of the people that stirs a pleasing response, the see-sawing political alignments between Protestant and Catholic, Scotland and England and Mary and Elizabeth are fascinating to watch on the most part. Shadowy whisperings in privy counsels are explored well, the way these men attempt to puppeteer the forces of the women they seek to serve are fleshed out nicely. On that note, this film is a tale for the ages which sits neatly within the current climate of power between women and men. Mary’s boldness is a trait we should respect and Elizabeth’s compassion and ailments are virtuous trademarks.

Ronan and Robbie are thoroughly compelling, their turns as rival women in charge are spellbinding, yet neither steals the show or feels like a person to root for over the other. It’s a film that sees them both somehow lost in a time of great heartache and civil unrest. Come their one and only scene together you can’t help but be truly lost in their performances, which makes their meeting amongst some hanging linen that much more resoundingly effective.

‘Mary Queen of Scots’ knows how to swirl together conspiracy, words of war and consequent bloodshed. If its story isn’t altogether cinematic and solidly formed you can rely on the talents of the two actors to get you through a turbulent time in history.

7/10

2018 Top 50

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Smile folks, it’s been an absolute blast this year in the cinemas and on streaming services alike. Yes, if you want to jump right in with my top 10 movies, I have already compiled a top ten list which you can find HERE, but if like me, you can’t abide a whole ton of great movies not getting their dues then this is their time to shine as I’ve come up with my first ever Top 50 countdown!

*Disclaimer* – I have not seen certain films like ‘Mandy’ or ‘Leave No Trace’ hence their absence and no ‘Truth or Dare’ doesn’t rock up, though it was a fine comedy. Okay, away we go…

50 – NEXT GEN

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A surprisingly fun and pacy cartoon flick with futuristic ideas and a charming connection between gal and bot.

Review – ‘Next Gen’

49 – MARY POPPINS RETURNS

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Emily Blunt steps into the ten to two shoes of Julie Andrews and does a spiffing job as the prim and proper nanny with magic endlessly pulled from her special bag.

Trip the Light Fantastic over to my review – ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

48 – ROMA

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Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white semi-biographical tale which hit Netflix is absolutely beautiful to look at but I just can’t quite connect to the majesty that everyone else has seen. There’s a fine story and lovely cinematography but that’s about it, no higher in the list. Don’t @ me.

My review is here – ‘Roma’

47 – BUMBLEBEE

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If someone had told me that a ‘Transformers’ spin-off would have featured higher than a stunning foreign movie lauded for Oscar glory I would have scoffed…a lot. But Travis Knight has captured the fun and nostalgic appeal that Michael Bay could only dream of.

No Decepticons here, this is a good film, my review – ‘Bumblebee’

46 – A STAR IS BORN

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Bradley Cooper dons a stetson and the first-time director title in this fourth telling of ‘A Star is Born’, it has some issues but a mostly great soundtrack and the might of Lady Gaga help this romantic country and western musical come alive.

Step into the Shallow end with my review – ‘A Star is Born’

45 – JOURNEY’S END

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A sombre and reflective WW2 drama, this truly grips you and makes you thoughtful about the dark trench warfare these brave soldiers faced. Sam Claflin and Asa Butterfield are excellent.

The journey begins with my review – ‘Journey’s End’

44 – CAM

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Another Netflix feature that took me by surprise, this has dark and original ideas and a blisteringly brilliant performance from Madeline Brewer makes this tech-thriller/horror a sexy yet smartly creepy film.

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43 – GAME NIGHT

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Jason Bateman & Rachel McAdams are a fun pairing in this entertaining comedic flick but the true MVP and best selling point for the films worth is Jesse Plemmons.

Roll a dice, right foot yellow and review is yours – ‘Game Night’

42 – ISLE OF DOGS

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Another quirky and lovely stop-motion outing from the wonderful Wes Anderson, this poochy plot has moments of rabid darkness but plenty of delightful storytelling.

Woof! My review is out of the kennel – ‘Isle of Dogs’

41 – A SIMPLE FAVOR

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Paul Feig’s latest has definitely divided audiences but I for one thoroughly enjoyed this strange concoction of humour and thrills all tinged with a French cinema flavour.

Only a simple favour to ask but please check out my review – ‘A Simple Favor’

40 – THOROUGHBREDS

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Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy are chillingly exceptional in this fairly cold yet entrancing off-beat film. It’s quite simply put, an original film with unsettling music and unpredictable moments.

Give my review a thoroughread – ‘Thoroughbreds’

39 – MOM AND DAD

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Crazy is as crazy does: surely a motto best suited to Nicolas Cage. This frenzied and pacy film may not be a superb film but I had a right good time watching the madness unfold and it knows what it is – a pure delightful crash of crazy.

Read more – ‘Mom and Dad’

38 – THE NIGHT COMES FOR US

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Woah Nelly! This Indonesian action which is on Netflix is a furious and bloody thriller which may be light on plot but is soaring to the heavens with hellish injury detail and electrically charged, fascinating fight choreography.

37 – GHOST STORIES

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Originally a stage show, which is somewhat evident at certain points, what with some theatrical elements and practical frights leading the way, this is a nightmarish and engrossing British horror with clever storytelling.

Boo! My review – ‘Ghost Stories’

36 – TULLY

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This is most certainly a film that goes somewhere a healthy percentage of audiences might not expect but it doesn’t tarnish the previously built maternal plot and Charlize Theron’s stunningly crafted performance, if anything it just makes it a more memorable story.

Don’t dilly dally – ‘Tully’

35 – THE HATE U GIVE

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Upon seeing the trailer I really wasn’t expecting to get anything from this film. Happily it’s much more than a generic YA adaptation, it has emotion, heart and the richest relevance to current world events. Amandla Stenberg & Russell Hornsby are mind-blowingly effective in this.

Don’t let the THUG-life get ya, read my review – ‘The Hate U Give’

34 – THE SHAPE OF WATER

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You can always trust on Guillermo del Toro to make a dark fantasy a totally captivating experience and this time the Academy Awards agreed, gifting this woman-loves-fish story the Best Picture trophy. It’s beautiful, weird and Sally Hawkins is the perfect lead.

The Shape of my Review can be found here – ‘The Shape of Water’

33 – BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

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A true ensemble piece of cinema and a film noir that almost fully sinks its teeth into you. Aside from a slightly dissatisfying story that takes over, this is a clever, highly original movie and well acted thriller which deserved higher box office.

No bad times with my review – ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

32 – CRAZY RICH ASIANS

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I openly admit I’m not an advocate for the rom-com genre but this family set story around an impending wedding really bowled me over. The luxurious visuals, stunning locations and more stunning cast balance romance and humour with finesse.

Take a walk down the aisle to my review – ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

31 – YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

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Lynne Ramsay excellently weaves a gritty and immersive city thriller, aided by an astonishing turn from Joaquin Phoenix, this has threads of ‘Taxi Driver’ and is a bold and tense piece of cinematic art.

30 – RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

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Fairly bloated with internet bustin’ gags and Disney references, but it’s fun, fast and a well animated sequel with Ralph and Vanellope just as endearing a friendship duo as back in 2012.

It’s good and that’s not bad, my thoughts – ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

29 – SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

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Truly original and absurd, two qualities which you can’t complain about in the climate of sequels/prequels and the like. Boots Riley goes all in directing & writing a superb screenplay that links to current affairs and issues in an offbeat, comical and twisted manner.

Giddy up over to my review – ‘Sorry to Bother You’

28 – PHANTOM THREAD

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Possibly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final feature, his role under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson is sublime, as are Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville…and a beautifully acted breakfast scene for the ages. This early UK 2018 film looks gorgeous and bursts with spits of spite and comedy.

Sew, a needle, pull and thread – ‘Phantom Thread’

27 – IN THE FADE

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Diane Kruger’s first German feature and one that’s put across the audience in three parts. Not every part is as strong as the other and a finale may be slightly lacking but a gritty opening and glossy, tense court room second act along with Kruger’s formidable performance make this a solid thriller of loss and revenge.

1, 2…Kruger’s coming for you – ‘In the Fade’

26 – BLACK PANTHER

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A massive hit and an even bigger stepping stone for black representation in superhero movies, this Marvel entry deals with spectacle, politics and leadership with detail and thought, fuelled by a great villain expertly handled by Michael B. Jordan, ‘Black Panther’ is a near-perfect comic-book film.

Enter Wakanda – ‘Black Panther’

25 – AMERICAN ANIMALS

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This is a clever spin on the heist genre as director Bart Layton mixes truth and fiction by blending the real life people alongside his actors. As the films plan nears fruition, the gang and audience alike are left unable to back out to culpability.

A review is up for grabs just here, go on, go – ‘American Animals’

24 – THE INCREDIBLES 2

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After 14 years too long, Pixar returned to the Parr family and their mix of city saving powers. The one animated feature deserving of a sequel, this one does not disappoint. Apart from a predictable turn of events and villain, this is a joyous and stunning animation to watch and any return of Edna Mode is a positive in my book.

Dash over to my review – ‘Incredibles 2’

23 – BLACKKKLANSMAN

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This Spike Lee joint is a funny and disturbing tale of KKK infiltration. It makes you laugh but importantly, it’s something which makes you irate, angry and fits nicely against the backdrop of divide so felt nowadays. Style and power rip through this film.

Don’t be a Duke, click my review – ‘BlackKklansman’

22 – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

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The Coen Brothers enter the Netflix way of life with this western anthology of six mini stories. The likes of James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson and Zoe Kazan excel in their segments. Sure, not all the tales are great and there may not be a resolute connection between them but it’s masterfully acted and captures the heart…and dust of the western genre.

21 – OVERLORD

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You’d not be wrong in thinking from outside glance this would be a naff horror but it’s in fact so much better than that. A gem of war, thriller and gory zombie effects, this is a brain-splattering delight.

Come on over – ‘Overlord’

20 – WILDLIFE

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Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan create a thing of quiet beauty in this drama about family. The former calls the shots as debut director and this adaptation of a 1990 novel is stunning not to just to look at but to revel in the towering acting from Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Scenic views, fraught relationships and a teen running home in the snow are tenderly accomplished.

Check out the ‘Wildlife’

19 – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

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I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Irish playwright and ‘In Bruges’ commander Martin McDonagh, this angry tale of grief and, well anger is no exception. The mix of great comedy and uneasy darkness clouding over Ebbing are thickly coated but don’t outweigh Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand.

More of my musings – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

18 – HEREDITARY

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Jinkies, this horror from Ari Aster is a chilling and terrifyingly effective narrative of family tensions. If you took out all the damned creepy moments then this would be a drama on grief and that only highlights the weirder, scarier qualities included by Aster. Toni Collette is absolutely fantastic in this.

Don’t click your tongue, lcckk – ‘Hereditary’

17 – WIDOWS

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Steve McQueen tackles the thriller genre but makes sure to keep his sturdy understanding of character to make this an investing movie, led by four strong women. The moments of heist drama are tense and the more politically angled aspects are wonderfully handled.

Mission: read my review. I’m sure you’ve got the balls to pull this off – ‘Widows’

16 – COCO

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Two Pixar releases for the UK in 2018 and both make my top 50, mostly because their animation is always so delectable but on top of this they’re a studio almost always capturing emotional and captivating stories. ‘Coco’ is no exception, this Day of the Dead inspired animation tugs on the heart strings and incorporates tingling music and colourful visuals.

 Don’t forget to click my review, Remember Me – ‘Coco’

15 – ASSASSINATION NATION

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This is 100% a movie which will split people, I can see why some will dislike the heck out of it but I positively loved the stuffing out of this bold, loud and violent film. It pops with trigger warnings of every nature and the feminine power of the above fearsome foursome are a force to be reckoned with as their town turns on them.

Reveal some more secrets – ‘Assassination Nation’

14 – ANNIHILATION 

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Shamefully Alex Garland’s recent sci-fi didn’t get to UK cinemas but it’s streaming on Netflix and is a sheer masterpiece of visuals and is also a movie which leaves you thinking. Headed by a brave team of females, this mix of science and horror is dreamy, ambiguous and downright superb.

Enter the Shimmer – ‘Annihilation’

13 – UPGRADE

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Rammed to the skies with inventive camera shots and pacy fight scenes, this adrenaline fuelled futuristic flick bursts out of the screen with entertaining energy. On top of this, it has flashes of humour, body-horror and stylish flair.

There’s no need to Upgrade to find my review – ‘Upgrade’

12 – A QUIET PLACE

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This film has magnificent levels of sustained threat, wince-inducing visuals of pain, smart uses of playing around with sound and Emily Blunt on top form as a pregnant wife caught up in a farmhouse of fear. John Krasinski becomes feature director for the first time and really gets to grips with the model of horror building making this one of the most effective cinema experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Ssssh, my review is over here – ‘A Quiet Place’

11 – THE BREADWINNER

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The creators behind ‘Song of the Sea’ have gifted the world another animated gem. This one is less fantastical though and this Middle-Eastern texture only makes the film a much more heart-felt trip, one that’s interspersed with yarns of magic but the plight of a girl stepping up and out to help her family is a powerful and outstanding watch.

My review for #11 is here – ‘The Breadwinner’

There we have it, those were my top 40 films of 2018 and now it’s time to reveal my faves of faves as I collect the big 10.

10 – SEARCHING

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John Cho leads a frenzied hunt for his missing daughter in a screen-set thriller that is anything but a cheap gimmick. The tension is palpable and the story is riveting, as it’s portrayed through calls, Facebook and other social media searches.

No need to search far as the review is here – ‘Searching’

9 – HALLOWEEN

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Michael Myers returned, swiftly and thankfully, slashing away all the sequels, letting this story follow on 40 years after what happened to Laurie Strode that fateful Halloween night. David Gordon Green shows he has a skill for the horror genre and the entire team clearly adore the original which is why this feels like a perfect chilling return to form for the Shape.

Don’t fear the Boogeyman – ‘Halloween’

8 – LADY BIRD

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Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a brilliant, humour filled coming of age story about mothers and daughters. There are great pangs of emotion and with perfect performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, you feel wrapped up in a comforting blanket watching this film.

It’s the titular role – ‘Lady Bird’

7 – HEARTS BEAT LOUD

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Well, here is a film that utterly bowled me over and completely surpassed my expectations for it being a generically mediocre Sundance indie. What this film is, is pure charm and sunshine, with Offerman and Clemons providing great music as a dad and his daughter. The songs are glorious and I’d be lying if I said I don’t listen to them almost constantly.

Don’t blink, my review isn’t a million miles away – ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

6 – BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

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I truly don’t care what some filmy types and critics have been saying about this film. I positively adored the majority of this foot-tapping, hand-clapping tale of Queen and its front man, the legendary Freddie Mercury, who is exquisitely played by Rami Malek. The film is fun and the music speaks for itself. A stadium sized biopic that will rock you.

You are the Champions if you give my review a read – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

5 – I, TONYA

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Margot Robbie steps onto the ice as Tonya Harding in this fresh and exciting visceral take on an ill-fated moment of Winter Olympics drama. Allison Janney is a great supporting feature as Harding’s mum and throughout we see a story presented in way that’s unreliable but entertaining, which makes the latter emotional moments that more resounding.

Get your skates on to the review – ‘I, Tonya’

4 – REVENGE

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This is a blood soaked film, one which side-steps away from the schlock way of vengeful flicks and becomes an engrossing thriller capably led by bad-ass Matilda Lutz. This is an explosive female led and directed movie from Coralie Fargeat which arrived in May and I haven’t forgotten about in the slightest.

My review won’t put up a fight – ‘Revenge’

3 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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Snapping its fingers and claiming bronze, this is an epic comic-book celebration that I saw three times and didn’t tire with any minute of it. Unlike repeat viewings of ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Age of Ultron’, this is a blockbuster outing which grows better upon more watches. There’s the purple might of a superb villain, great visuals and a cracking conclusion to ten years of MCU building.

You don’t need to assemble any heroes to locate my review – ‘Infinity War’

2 – SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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Miles Morales swings into the hot spot of silver, in the only animation to feature on my top ten. This is not only one of the most sensational animations I’ve seen but one of the best films, full stop. The styles are incredible, the voice work is perfect and the story is just right for the Spider-Man world.

Sling yourself over to the review – ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

1 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

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This is the sixth instalment in the M:I franchise and it is showing no signs of exhaustion, in fact quite the contrary, with action hero Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie again teaming up to make Ethan Hunt and his globe-trotting, ankle-breaking antics an exhilarating treat to see. The stunts are next level and knowing they are practically executed makes you appreciate the action that much more than a second rate movie filling in set pieces with CGI. Fallout is 100% the real deal and is one of the finest action films I’ve seen…ever.

My review won’t self destruct in 30 seconds – ‘Mission:Impossible – Fallout’

Suspiria (2018)

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Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

4.5/10

Overlord (2018)

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Now this may not be the fourth instalment in the ‘Cloverfield’ world as people had speculated when word got around that J.J Abrams was behind this feature, but that’s truly for the best because this is a stonking great stand-alone movie that blows the roof off with tremendous energy and B-movie revelry.

It’s the day before D-Day and a squadron have orders to reach a church in a French village and destroy a German planted radio tower. A few of the men survive and band together, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) heads out and on his wanderings he uncovers a deadly secret concocted by a sinister doctor, who is carrying out a series of tests to produce a serum which could gift the Nazis some soldiers that can’t die.

This is only the second full length film to come from Australian director Julius Avery but it’s a blistering delight. The first steps of ‘Overlord’ are much more gripping and dramatic than you’d expect. The whole WW2 angle and the mission that these soldiers are given are dealt with by Avery with fantastic explosions of fear stemming from German-occupied France and amongst this you can find some softer moments in the script as the comradery grows and the humour rounds out the edges.

What works so well is the way the movie sort of reveals its true intentions as a zombie film, at first glance a spectator who’d seen no trailer, poster or any information would see the first half an hour as a solid war movie and it is. There is great mystery building amongst the horrors of this occupation, which culminates in a horror of a very different kind.

Once the gritty style of the war moves into the more gross out zombie-horror section you can expect large dollops of bloody prosthetics and gory VFX that might not shock but it certainly grabs the attention and pulls you into this extremely visceral genre piece. It is true to say that along the way the characters we follow are two-dimensional and their journeys are fairly predictable but these paper thin characteristics aren’t trying and in fact, the poor decision making and off character choices are very much the bread and butter of horrors so it can be forgiven.

There is a huge amount of fun to be had whilst watching ‘Overlord’, the entire feature may be brash but it’s brilliantly enjoyable and it feels like some science fuelled nightmare with moody Call of Duty visuals and twisted nastiness to boot.

8/10

Sicario 2: Soldado (2018)

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After taking a breath and realising what a fantastically dark ride 2015’s ‘Sicario’ was, I never expected a follow up. It didn’t set one up and people weren’t calling for a sequel but here we are; without supremo director Denis Villeneuve and director of photography Roger Deakins. Does that weaken the horrendously titled Day of the Soldado or is there merit to be found?

In light of some bombers reaching American soil, the US Government employs Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to get dirty and stop the Mexican cartels; who they believe are smuggling terrorists across the border. Matt hires black ops guy Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) to start a war between the cartel groups.

Three years ago we were presented with this boiling pot of tension and a strained political tug of war, with Emily Blunt thrust into the dangerous landscape. Now with director Stefano Sollima on board and Blunt’s Kate Macer out, the story is a different kettle of fish. What worked for the first film was Taylor Sheridan’s script, we were on side with Kate, not knowing why they needed her and her gradual understanding of the shady tactics being utilised was an interesting narrative arc. This film’s plot isn’t as neatly focused and it becomes a wider exploit on Mexico and the US Government, it’s also an odd feeling to be along for the ride with Matt and Alejandro; who weren’t exactly characters to like or trust the first time around.

In ‘Sicario’ there were indeed bloody moments but these suited Kate’s worrying immersion into a world painted as a grey area. For me I couldn’t get past the idea that a good proportion of ‘Soldado’ was bloodier and violent for the sake of violence, plus the trigger blasting sight of del Toro firing like a maniac took me right of the film because it just looks dumb. The violence generally unnerved me and felt like a visceral jolt but there wasn’t great reason behind it, mirroring the sense of this sequel being made.

On the plus side, I still think this was a good movie. There was more tension coursing through the veins of the drama compared to before, if that’s somehow possible. Hildur Guonadottir’s score picked up on the familiar sounds of the late, great Johann Johannsson and added further swells of palpable unease. A stand out sequence with a dust road convoy is expertly executed and later stages with Gillick and his journey are nicely unexpected.

There’s still a chilling aura on show, thanks to Sheridan’s handle on the returning characters and it’s clearly a film identifiable as part of the gritty, bleak ‘Sicario’ brand, but it’s let down by a looser, disappointing story and perhaps too much brutality. They’re obviously eager for a 3rd film and though I didn’t really want ‘Soldado’, I’m more than happy to see what the trilogy could end like.

6/10